Thursday, June 18, 2009

Colorado: "The Hub of the New Energy Economy"

The state of Colorado is at the center of the so-called "new energy economy" according to a senior U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) official.

The combination of federal efforts -- being undertaken at the U.S. Department of Energy regional office in Colorado as well as at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) located near Denver -- and state efforts, including an aggressive renewable electricity standard, illustrate Colorado's key role in moving the country towards a new energy future, Jeff Baker, director of the Office of Laboratory Operations in the Golden field office of the DOE said earlier this week.

Mr. Baker was one of the two featured speakers at "Mapping a New Energy Strategy for the West," sponsored by the Denver law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. The other featured speaker was Robert Noun, director of external affairs at NREL and the lead adjunct professor for a "one of its kind" new course "Renewable Energy in the 21st Century: Policy, Law, Markets, Technology" that will be offered at DU in the spring 2010 semester.

According to Mr. Baker, there are four elements of the clean energy economy:

  • Clean energy (renewables)
  • Energy efficiency
  • Environmentally-friendly production methods
  • Conservation and pollution management

Among other eye-catching points made by Mr. Baker:

  • The clean energy economy is growing at 30 percent a year
  • Wind provided 40 percent of all new U.S. electricity capacity installed in 2008
  • In the last three years, venture capitalists have invested $13 billion in the new energy economy
  • The economic stimulus bill, enacted earlier this year, includes nearly $85 billion aimed at the new energy economy

Mr. Noun, a lawyer by training and considered by many to be the foremost expert on renewable energy and energy efficiency policy in the U.S., said one of the challenges NREL now faces is "getting to speed and scale quickly. This is a national challenge." He noted that President Barack Obama has committed to doubling the amount of renewable electricity in the next three years.

NREL's role in the new energy economy includes conducting basic research, fostering the renewable energy industry in the U.S., and commercializing the technology that is being developed in the laboratory. "We are focused on commercializing and deploying our research. We are trying to be more entrepreneurial," Mr. Noun said, noting the many public-private partnerships that NREL is currently undertaking.

Moreover, he pointed out that NREL will sponsor the "22nd NREL Industry Growth Forum," Nov. 3-5 in Denver, where key actors in the clean energy development, generation, and investment communities meet and exchange ideas. According to NREL, the conference "is the premiere clean energy investment forum not only because of the caliber of investors and entrepreneurial companies it attracts, but also due to its unique format and window on the energy future."

More than 250 of the state's leaders attended the "Mapping a New Energy Strategy" event -- representing federal, state and local governments, the finance industry, law firms, renewable energy developers and others -- a clear indication of Colorado's leadership role.

What does this mean in a larger perspective?

First, the Denver area and Colorado more generally are "the" places to be for those interested in pursuing new energy economy opportunities.

Second, the DU College of Law is reaching out to new energy economy firms and leaders in order to bring the best and brightest of this sector into our courses and programs. As part of this, the law school offers courses in "Renewable Energy Project Finance," taught by adjunct professor John Herrick, a lawyer with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and an expert in the topic, as well as the NREL-related course mentioned above. Students in these classes will learn from the premier leaders in this important new field.

Third, the opportunities -- as well as challenges -- in front of the U.S. and the world are enormous. But they also reflect the chance for individuals who are curious and persistent to get in on the very front end of this new wave.

Colorado has always been an energy state -- first it was coal, and then gas and oil, and today it is renewable energy. Put another way, tomorrow's energy future is being worked on today in Colorado.

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